The informality of ‘free’ labour.

I am writing on the relation of illicit and informal labour to formal labour, the unpaid component of capital as embodied, lived, precarious and immaterially material as a way of keeping all workers in a kind of check – aspirations and opportunities limited by affective restraint, low horizons and opportunity. How this plays out in the informal and illicit economies of nightlife, port life, smuggling, contraband, covert and dysfunctional piracies…
Conceptions of ‘labour’ have relied for too long on an unexamined conventional definition based upon working hours which ignores Marx’s radical and innovative extended argument in Capital. Labour, in Marx’s unfolding presentation, is first of all labour-power, but in a changing sense. His analysis proceeds from simple reproduction to collective – a movement replicated in individual chapters and in the book as a whole. By the later chapters of volume one, the issue is the maintenance of a separation between productive consumption in the workplace and consumption that reproduces collective labour power. A distinction maintained by the wage form, with responsibility for reproduction – food, shelter, training, domestic life, childrearing etc – delegated to non-work or unpaid ‘free’ time.
Capital cannot exist materially without this immense trick of ‘free time’. In addition to receiving without fee the ‘surplus’ created above reproduction by labour in the workplace, capital also benefits in various ways from the materiality of unwaged time. The informality of this time of reproduction, of unpaid labour in the home, in training, in community, even in recovering, through sleep, for work the next day – all this time has become saturated with commodification, from school books and domestic appliances to therapies and alarm clocks. Nightlife and homelife become the shadowy extension of labour time (Adorno) subject to an affective recovery work, replenishing that which capital appropriates for free. ‘free in a double sense’ Marx says, and today, more than ever, all of our time is monetized as such ‘free time’
from this, from studies of the informal sector, it becomes possible to say…
…well, there will be a case study on informal economies in port cultures, piracy or some such. To be worked out closer to the date…

Precarious: on generalized unemployment and the conditions of street contestation.


What can we learn about contemporary politics of work, service economy and culture industry from an old book from 1867? We can read – precisely in Chapter 25 of Marx’s Capital – a long disquisition on the industrial reserve army (LW628 section three of chapter 25). Much of the chapter is also on wages (and therefor probably moved from the once promised book on wages) and was included to emphasise the trick of accumulated capital – as unpaid labour power of a collective kind. If today the contribution economy, algorithms of advertising and circulation, and struggles over democracy in the media and on the street are questions of precarious life, does it matter that many have misunderstood Marx’s argument, his movement from individual worker to collective worker, and simple reproduction to capitalist reproduction, in Capital? If his argument is credited, then the ‘prekärer’ is the condition of all precarious workers (P793 D669 LW640), and all reproduction within capitalism is precarious. We then have to consider the proximity of the floating, latent and stagnant reserve army that keeps everyone ducking and diving to stay in place, keeps aspirations in check, keeps wages down, and is an unavoidable question of inside and outside that must always be put under pressure. Where Marx calls for workers and unemployed to organise together, we miss a trick if the sociological analysis remains at the level of the individual not collective. In this analysis, Capital is many, but the ‘we’ is more. What does this mean 150 years later for the organisation of social movements such that may or may not be linked to Occupy (Gezi, Umbrella, Indignados, Dataran).

Earlier – here.

[notes] a much wider concept of labour power in the second half

Here are my notes, thinking out loud. Sorry if there seems like I am telling you what you already told us in your text – but there are things I need to clarify for myself, hence the ‘you said this’, then ‘this’ roundabouts. I think it is, well, you surely know already I think its great, so…

I think it is a really important thing to discuss this issue of reproduction first. Not third… and we should think of this challenge – to put reproduction at the centre of the analysis – as something that Marx does perhaps too slowly for readers today, but it is there in his Umschlag in the second half of the book. Umschlag is transformation, or tipping point, and there is a moment in the book – well, many really, but clear ones in chapter 16 – collective worker – and chapter 23 – where this is crucial. [and of course, as well as change, Umschlag is envelope, and all those associations of coat, skin, husk need to be held to the side].

We should dwell on what has happened here in terms of the unfolding analysis of capitalism in the book and why it matters for how we describe things – like commodification of all aspects of life, like labour power, like skills, training, discipline… I would risk, hesitantly, saying that I think Marx leads us to a possibly unavoidable misconstrual when he does not explicitly talk about reproduction of the class relation until section seven of Capital, and even there still sets aside the place of child rearing, women etc – he says he will come back to it… and perhaps does – this is not my main point here even as it is possible to make the case that though Marx several times mentions the matter of reproduction of the working class, he did not deal in detail until parts of volume 2 with the division 1 and division 2 of consumption/labour fund stuff, and even then… Nevertheless there are comments in several of the chapters in vol 1, especially at the beginning of chapter 17 where he notes the ‘great variations in the cost of reproducing the workers family’ (P.656 D.542) only to immediately exclude consideration till later…. then in chapter 22 consideration is required – ‘therefore we must take into account’ – of factors that impact upon the value of labour power: ‘the price and extent of the prime necessities of life’, as developed at a certain stage in history, the ‘cost of training the workers’, the ‘part played by women and children’ (P701, D.583)….

Bare me out, why I think your article is important, but why I think Marx leads us to a misconstrual – well, it may not matter that much, but it effects your phrasing a little and I am trying to get to that, however much I am convinced that the tone is right, that the total(litarian) commodification of reproduction – in the west, and the west in the east etc – has to be confronted. Let me try to be clear, it is where you write:

‘Under capitalism, we reproduce human beings as labour power, or as potential labour power. We reproduce people as workers. As class subjects – who are disciplined, educated, skilled and moulded – to as the saying goes “to know their place”. Be it to rule, to be the manager or to work like a dog for someone else’ (Barbagallo 2014).

My point is going to be that this is good, to talk of labour power, yet there is a problem as far as it stands for simple reproduction in the abstract individual sense – a mother wiping snot from a nose – and stands for simple production in the abstract (and fictive, necessary for the analysis) simple production of value for a single capital. The story unfolds though, that’s the point. Marx had to explain labour power first. He starts with the single labourer confronting the single capitalist in the market (actually he starts with the single commodity, then moves to market. He starts with simple production so as to explain labour power, in the chapter on the working day he moves from the voice of one worker to the workers banded together to demand the ten hour day. I am stressing a pattern here. So when he gets to talk about how a single capital must already find the worker in place, ready to sell labour capacity (and only having that to sell) there has been a similar shift from simple reproduction to complex reproduction, from one worker to the collective worker and from one capital to many capitals. This happens in chapters 16, 17, 22, 23, but it was already happening in Working Day, in Co-operation. – labour, whether paid or unpaid, is social.

It is in this sense that Marx then points out that the capitalist system must reproduce the whole capitalist system, inclusive of those who do not work, who themselves do not produce surplus value. It must find already available, more or less, many possible labour powers, ready in the market, but also supported already, by others who will not be waged, but who have ben produced by capital. The class relation is already there, and must be reproduced in all its horrific, violent gore – the best bits of your argument are those that recognise this violent fucked up ness of contemporary reproduction… but capital must find the socialised worker already in place, and then, hire only some of them. The rest, they also helpfully there, reproduced, but not for wages – they may be those who are part of the ‘collective labourer’ who merely facilitate another persons labour, eg teachers (when they are not selling a product, but teaching to improve skill levels in another), mothers (in all the ways you say), but also community, religion, neighbours etc (as I have said before) and it is also that they, some of ‘the rest’ may be actually unproductive, in that they will not find work, or only some work – latent, stagnant, floating, and so even will even not be trained, barely disciplined – but they will still – more or less usefully, be of use to capital – and will fall into the reserve army of labour – helping keep wages (costs to capital) down, through keeping everyone in work scrimping and saving and conforming to order because there is this reserve army ready to step in… All in all, the formation of class subjects is the formation of this multifariously directly productive, secondarily productive, and sometimes unproductive class subject – collectively, the class that the capitalists needs to have reproduced over and over. The class relation.
What I am getting at is that here, the notion of labour power – the entire labour theory of value – is Umschlag – it tips, does not work the same way from the perspective of the whole, from the perspective of the socialised collective labourer (that would include the wiping of noses alongside the operation of a drill). A transformation as Marx’s analysis adopts the perspective of the whole.
Social Reproduction means a wider concept of labour power, involving our collective social capacity, and, under Capital, our incapacities (proletarianisation of all via commodification, or the so-called culture industry).
Marx talks about the great deceit that has been perpetrated in which responsibility for this reproduction is placed upon the worker in so-called ‘free’ time, which is time outside of waged time. This trick is another part of that trick that perpetrates the myth that value is produced only in paid work time, and reproduction of labour capacity is unwaged. All the brunt of this was there in the discussions of training, child-rearing etc, but Marx in volume one might have been more explicit of the enormity of this – he does offer his examples about how even meals became the responsibility of the worker – no eating on the job. etc. But there he is too often still talking differentiated worker, not collective class that includes the reserve of floating, latent, stagnant labour etc that also makes up the class relation.
To say class subjects are those “who are disciplined, educated, skilled and moulded” then is to overstate the case in line with the trick that capital wants to pull. The pretty fucked up violence of capitalist reproduction as you rightly mention, is hidden right there in another version of that trick. That ‘we’ are all lovely skilled-up, ready-to-work, instruments of labour, when I think many of us are untrained, unmoulded, and otherwise unshaped so as to not be productive workers at all, to have ‘shit jobs’ in the DG sense, to be relatively dysfunctional for capital in terms of its myth of singular labour power. Yet Capital even uses this.  So that when we talk of really existing collective or socialised production under capital, the notion of labour capacity is something that has been replaced for many with a useless filler, so much flabby culture industry consumption, pointless activity, madness, indolence, alienated activity, deferral, delegation to paid ‘carers’ who do not care, and so on…
I totally agree with the direction of this and want to try and get it clear that the violence of reproduction is in this trick that suggests that reproductive work is not a part of the value creation of labour. What is often said is that such work does not produce ‘surplus value’ – but surplus value is the calculated theft of labour capacity in both the trick of the wage, which pays only necessary costs of reproduction of labour power, and the trick of leaving responsibility for reproduction of that labour power to unwaged time, and to the sphere of consumption by and large. Surplus value is a lie that serves capital in that it does not ‘pay’ for what it takes. And then, it becomes a double violence. If we think with the notion of collective labourer, which includes all those involved in the creation of value, waged or not, then the collective labourer is not fully recognised for their collective value producing capacity, only doled out the necessary costs of reproducing individual labour powers – a few are reimbursed, and even then efforts are made, with the pressure of the ‘rest’ to push those necessary costs – the wage – to its minimum. Then, with this minimum, having produced these commodities – and a surplus – through badly, and only partially remunerated, social collective effort, this collective social ‘worker’ then must buy back the commodities they have collectively made using the pitiful necessary costs given to the waged contingent of this social/collective labourer as a reword for the gift of value production of ‘surplus’ given for free to the capitalist.
You write: ‘

The task is to radically reorganise the work, to revalue it, to bring it to the centre of our lives and our struggles. This is as much to identify all that is wrong with currently existing reproduction as much as it is to reclaim all that is necessary. From Black feminist scholars – such as bell hooks and Patricia hills Collins – we can also think of reproduction as belonging to a radical ‘homeplace’ – a place that is necessary to nurture, to value and to support – as a place in which we can retreat to and recharge our bodies after the cruelties and harm of capitalist work – and crucially where we can make plans, learn from each other to have courage to resist, and to teach our children to not only survive capitalism but to revolt against its discipline, rhythms and institutions of power.” (Barbagallo 2014 FF)

Awesome. So when you say, and I am happy to see it stressed: ‘that the wealth of human society is not a collection of commodities – it just appears so. In fact, it is labour power, indeed it is humans and our activity and interaction with the world around us that produces the immense wealth of the world” – I want to say that use of labour power here can be a misconstrual if it is any one labour power. If we remember that the point of making that critique of the bad translation of the start of the English version of capital was to start out on recognizing that the trick of this appears – erscheint – is that the wage is also the ‘appearance form’ –erschienungsform – of value, and that by paying attention to the difference between Marx’s mode of presentation, which starts with the individual commodity, and the analysis, which moved from individual labour power to the social reproduction of the class relation, then when you say, ‘it is labour power, indeed it is humans’ the Umschlag  or transformation that matters is that its plural humans, it is our collective social labour power, not the labour power bought for a wage at pitiful necessary cost, that is expropriated by the capitalists, and so must be expropriated in turn. The humans are many, labour power as an abstract individualistic capacity, skill or formation is not the class version of labour power that Marx will recognise when the expropriators are expropriated and the surplus is used for (the care of) all, because it belongs to all
ahhh, fuck it, the muezzin is starting and I have again stayed up waffling on till the dawn call. I hope you have the good sense not to even bother reading all that. Lal salaam.

Proletarianization for all! Shopping as civil war.

panorama battleSpeaking at the 4th General Assembly of the Chamber of Merchants and Craftsmen In November 2014, Tayyip Erdoğan said:

“For us, tradesmen and artisans are not merely the people who do business, buy and sell. In our civilization, tradesmen and artisans are soldiers when needed; they are martyrs who fall while defending the homeland, veterans and heroes,” … “They are the police who maintain security, judges and arbitrators who maintain justice”

I am teaching the death knell section of Capital this week. Local events have brought home very much the reactionary role of those petty traders that align with capital in a reactionary way. Here with Presidential approval, they claim the streets for a miserable cut-price commerce and little else (think shopping malls and security guards too). Alongside their marginal gains, they provide Capital with an obsolete but fascist patrol (as *in the *UK *too), always backed by violence, in uniform or not – a last ditch defence of marginal privileges that must be overcome. Shopping is not just civil war because the capitalists pass on our discounts as wage cuts to other workers, but also because smoothing the streets facilitates the enforced sale of commodified junk made by others so you can make commodified junk (and surplus) for capital – a double trick. The petty trader is a block, and a bloc, on the wrong side of the process. Speaking of the collective worker, paid and unpaid, the proletarianisation of all is socialised labour alongside the centralisation of capital in the hands of a few magnates, Marx adds a footnote to the Manifesto as he notes how this process of centralisation also turns the mass of the people into a class with interests diametrically opposed to capital – the contradictions expressed in crisis, and this low-level petty civil war is a crisis – the contradictions…

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So, you know, there a bits of Capital where Marx thought it was worth explaining a wider context for things he had written before, and I think there is something to be said for rethinking the terms used then in the terms used now because, uncanny repetitions, there is something in the way we are still all drawn into the proletarianisation game (even if Bernard Stiegler too often wants to point out Marx was wrong, it is interesting to see how much of what he said can help make sense of new circumstances).

Cotton – money – Bible – money – Brandy

john hutnyk:

Update – notes to self… re lecture three

Originally posted on trinketization:

by far and away the best response to lecture three ever….


Added December 2014, as its lecture three again, this possibly apocryphal stub from the wiksters…

“The storehouses of the Romanov Court in St. Petersburg were regarded as the largest collections of cognacs and wines in the world with much of it from the Transcaucasus region of Georgia. During the October Revolution of 1917, upon the storming of the Winter Palace, the Bolshevik Revolution actually paused for a week or so as the participants gorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines. The Russian market was always a huge brandy-consuming region in which home-grown varieties were common but much of it was imported. The patterns of bottles followed that of the western European norm. Throughout the Soviet era, the production of brandy was a source of pride for the communist regime as they continued to produce some excellent…

View original 75 more words

Quid pro Quo – Subversive Festival, Zagreb (2nd vid)

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My third talk in a series of three on capital was at the Subversive Festival in Zagreb. The second talk is here (Translating Capital in Context) and it makes sense to see the second talk first [the first one in Rijeka was not recorded, but was based on my text on Citizen Kane], not least because it will help explain why the conceit in this third talk has Marx relocated to India, which of course he was always deeply interested in, but he never went, only picking up bits of info, and some myths – eg the horror stories of Jagannath etc – from his wide-ranging and varied reading. I think it is justified to deploy Marx to Calcutta, at least in fantasy, though its true not even Engels took his father’s advice to go to Calcutta to start in business. The old boys were European bound, but this did not mean they did not seek out the revolution elsewhere.

What also should be mentioned (the parts here are – great job – edited and slightly reordered, and the opening by Bernard missed) is that in this talk I set out to look at three different moments. 1) the arrival of Clive in Calcutta after the ‘sham scandal’ of the Black Hole in 1756; 2) the first all-India war of Independence, the so-called ‘mutiny’ 100 years later and; 3) the quid pro quo return of originary capital to the site of the East India Company shipyard in London in present times, under the aegis of the Farrell’s development of Convoys’ Wharf, Deptford, for Hutchinson Whampoa.

I am slowly writing this out as a long, too long, chapter, so this version is pretty schematic, but you will get the drift of new work. Thanks for stopping by. Thanks also to the crew at Subversive, especially Karolina Hrga, and Bernard Koludrović who was chair.


“Marx writing on India is key to understanding Capital. My argument is that we can make sense of Marx today by examining his theoretical and journalistic work together, each informed by an emergent anthropology, by historical hermeneutics, by a critique of political economy and by attention to a global political contest that mattered more than philosophy. Marx reading history, already against the grain and without being able to make actual alliances, is nevertheless seeking allies in a revolutionary cause. Is it possible to observe Marx coming round to realise, after the shaping experience of the 1848-1852 European uprisings, the possibilities for the many different workers of the world to unite? I consider the sources Marx finds available, what he reads, and how his writing practice parses critical support as habitual politics, and how far subcontinental events, themes and allegories are a presence in the key moves of his masterwork Capital almost as if India were a refocused bromide for Europe, just as slavery is for wages. I will take up four cases – the ‘founding’ of Calcutta by Job Charnock (disputed); the story of Clive sacking Chandernagore and going on to defeat Suraj-ud-duala at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 in retaliation for the ‘Black Hole’ (did it exist?); Disraeli verbosely saying nothing about the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’ 1857 (‘the East as a career’); and the question of legalizing Opium in China and the advent of Matheson-Jardine Company after the East India Company comes to an end (‘quid pro quo’). All of this brings us back to the realities of global investment and regeneration in Europe today, as international capital returns to the port of London to redevelop the old East India Company shipyards in Deptford.”

15/5/2014, 21h, Cinema Europa, Zagreb, Croatia
John Hutnyk: Quid pro quo: the East as a career
7th Subversive festival: “Power and Freedom in the Time of Control”
Moderator: Bernard Koludrović